…..on June 18th, a little after 5pm to be exact, I was on duty at the famous Speakers Corner, Hyde Park, listening to Lord Soper (God rest his soul), Mr Hanratty wanting a pothumous pardon for his son James (convicted of the infamous `A6 murder`, executed in 1962 and presumed innocent by his father for 40 years, until DNA was discovered), various religious zealots of varying states of sanity and a few others speaking about world domination, support for the IRA, the life of snails and other invertebrates, that sort of thing. It was pretty much a typical tour of duty at this famous symbol of alleged free speech.
Then the radio crackles with our call sign; we are called to an rvp and embussed on one of the familiar `green coaches`, the Metropolitan Police’s equivalent of the Douglas Dakota troop transporter. Word is passed out by our Inspector that there’s been a plane crash at Heathrow and we are going to recover bodies and set up a temporary mortuary. Never expected that one when the duty rota had me slated for Speakers Corner duty. Setting up a temporary mortuary, nice, good job I’d packed my sandwitches. We weaved our way westbound through the traffic laden streets of inner London and were making really good progress until we got to within 5 miles of the location and then everything ground to a halt. Apparantly, the news had gone out very quickly on the BBC radio and TV giving the exact location of the incident. A weird, disparate selection of the great British public had piled the kids, dog and granny into their family cars and set off to see the wreckage – well it was a nice sunny Sunday afternoon. Gridlock ensued and we were eventually stood down because we simply could not get through, although we could smell the pungent paraffin-like aviation fuel in the prevailing wind. Another unit had been assigned and managed to get there from a different direction. I actually got off duty earlier than scheduled. I went home the next day to enjoy some home cooking. The day after than was my 20th birthday.
This link has a film clip showing some of these strange sightseeing creatures milling about amongst the rescuers. When I got home that night, I saw footage of these sickening `family outings` parked up on the side of roads and even on central reservations, sitting and eating potato crisps and spam sandwitches. There were reports of police and fire officers being obstructed by these `ghouls`, some of whom were allegedly trying to carry away bits of wreckage as a souvenir. People! Don’t you just love `em. This would be Britains worst air disaster until the bombing of PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, 16 years later – and the Met Police would be there too, flown into Scotland with the mortuary and body recovery teams, but on that occasion they managed to get there without Joe Public getting in the way. Respect, to all those who performed that awful task with such professionalism and to those amongst them who still see those unspeakable, pitiful sights when they close their eyes. Just another day at the office.
Forty years ago, blimey!! I need to ride my motorbike, but the weather is so bad here that even the seagulls are heading to the Bay of Biscay.